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Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Daily Debate: Revenge in Buffalo, Ducks' doldrums and soaring Jets

By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun ponder what, if anything, the Sabres will do in response to the infamous Ryan Miller hit, the struggling Ducks and soaring Jets.

Burnside: Happy Thanksgiving, my friend. I know, your leftovers were eaten by mid-October after Canadian Thanksgiving. A monster night coming up in the NHL with 26 of the 30 teams in action. We know one game the NHL’s Lord of Discipline will be watching, and that’s the Boston/Buffalo tilt. This is the first meeting of the two Northeast Division foes since Milan Lucic laid out former Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller, who was well outside his crease, with a big hit Nov. 12. The Sabres complained vigorously that there should have been a suspension. Shanahan disagreed but more worrisome was the lack of on-ice response to the incident. So, what do the Sabres do tonight? Anything? More of nothing?

LeBrun: Well, I may be a Canadian living in Toronto, but I will be having some friends over tomorrow to watch some football. It’s a great day on the calendar, even for a Canuck like myself. But yes, the big game tonight, at least in hype, is Boston at Buffalo. Sheriff Shanny confirmed to that he has chatted with Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and Sabres GM Darcy Regier ahead of tonight’s tilt with the obvious message that the league will closely be monitoring things. Shanahan, at least as of Tuesday, was not expected to be in Buffalo but rather felt he could see more from his setup in New York, where he has more video angles and replay capabilities than you can imagine. His predecessor, Colin Campbell, would usually attend these types of rematches in which fireworks might be on display, but this is a new lord of discipline, and he’s going to do things his way. What should we expect tonight? Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick are candidates to drop the gloves for Buffalo. We spoke with Chiarelli on Tuesday, and one thing the Bruins' GM said is that he understands the mindset of a team like Buffalo tonight, given all the hype two seasons ago before the Bruins took on Pittsburgh in the aftermath of the Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard. The B’s know what’s coming. But let’s face it, is there a tougher team in the NHL than Boston? Don’t think so. You’re not going to physically intimidate the Bruins. The best revenge for Buffalo is on the scoreboard tonight.

Burnside: Well, when I think Thanksgiving and the NHL, I always think back to Glen Hanlon, who was dispatched by the Capitals during the holiday in 2007, replacing him with Bruce Boudreau. (If I recall the story correctly from Hanlon, his family already had left for the holidays expecting Hanlon to be busy with his team, and so he had to stop at a Piggly Wiggly to pick up food and return to an empty house. Very sad.) And it’s natural with the holiday falling right around the quarter mark of the season that there’s lots of discussion about teams that are struggling, and no one is struggling more than the Anaheim Ducks, who have won just once in their past 11 games.

I asked, rhetorically, after the Penguins hammered the New York Islanders in Sidney Crosby’s triumphant return Monday, whether the Isles were now officially the worst team in the league, and more than one Ducks fan reached out to suggest their team is more than in the running. The problem for all struggling teams is that making changes comes usually in two forms: make a trade, which is hard because these teams are dealing from a position of weakness, and fire the coach. Tough times for GM Bob Murray, that’s for sure.

How will the Anaheim Ducks handle their season-long woes?
LeBrun: It’s just shocking to see the Ducks (who play in Phoenix tonight) where they are. They’re 29th in league scoring at 2.00 goals per game (the lowly Isles are now 30th at 1.94). From talking to sources on other NHL teams, Murray’s phone has been ringing off the hook with trade talks, although as you pointed out, a lot of it is his “friends’’ in the business are offering him anchors, not life preservers. I believe complicating things as well is that the Ducks are on a strict budget, so if they do make a deal, it’s money in, money out, and that makes it that much more difficult to make a significant trade. I know some Ducks fans have told me they’re tired of having Randy Carlyle behind the bench, but my sense is that the GM is not looking at the head coach as the issue.

The same goes with the Calgary Flames, where head coach Brent Sutter is under fire these days, especially after his struggling club lost in Columbus on Monday night. They’re at Detroit tonight, so it’s not getting any easier. The whispers out of Calgary is that Sutter and his core players aren’t on the same page. But I chatted with Flames GM Jay Feaster on Tuesday and he insisted -- quite emphatically -- that the solution wasn’t firing Sutter. “That’s just a cop-out,’’ Feaster told “He’s the last of our concerns right now.’’

Will Feaster feel the same a month from now if the losing continues?

Burnside: Well the Calgary GM is handcuffed in many ways by the team he inherited from former GM Darryl Sutter, and if you look at his roster, it’s chockablock with no-move and no-trade clauses -- 11 according to -- making it even more difficult to change the chemistry in the locker room by changing the personnel. And remember, Brent Sutter was also inherited by Feaster, so there’s that going against Sutter’s job security, too. Feaster managed to shed Niklas Hagman, picked up on waivers by Anaheim, but significant change means moving a significant piece. And whether it’s a guy like Jay Bouwmeester, who has never really fit in Calgary, at least in the way a guy making $6.68 million annually should fit in, or the core guys Jarome Iginla or Miikka Kiprusoff, it’s hard to see anything changing much in Calgary. This leads us back to the other option, and that’s to find a new coach and hope to get the same bump the St. Louis Blues did when they replaced Davis Payne with Ken Hitchcock.

OK, the other game I’ll be watching closely tonight will be Winnipeg’s visit to Washington. The Jets have won three in a row and could move to within two points of Washington with a victory. Go figure. Wonder if Alexander Semin will be in the lineup and if he responds to being a healthy scratch in the Caps' last contest Monday. The Southeast is a strange mix with Carolina winning two in a row and the cardiac kids in Florida leading the division. What else catches your eye in this pre-Thanksgiving festival of pucks, my friend?

LeBrun: What else catches my eye? How about a possible Western Conference finals preview when the Chicago Blackhawks visit HP Pavilion in San Jose to play the red-hot Sharks. These are the two teams I picked in September to meet up in May in the West finals, and so far I’m loving that prediction. The Hawks are coming off back-to-back brutal losses in Alberta, so they’ll be looking to turn things around. The Sharks have gone 11-2-1 since opening the season with three losses in their first four games, and that’s why they’re first in this week’s Power Rankings. Should be a great title tonight. Enjoy the turkey my friend, we’ll chat next week.